OUR LOVE STORY
The first time Phil asked me out I wasn’t even sure he had.
For several weeks after I graduated, he seemed to seek me out, though without the least hint of flirtatiousness. Somehow I’d find myself engaged in conversation with him and the flock of energized young people that always seemed to surround him.
We talked about dating standards, how far was too far, and the book that was propelling him to a higher calling: The Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot.
Jim Elliot, the martyred missionary, was Phil’s hero. He read and quoted and studied Elliot’s too-short life. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot
I listened in awe. Who was this man? Dare I believe he might be interested in me?
One night we found ourselves sitting across the way from each other at the same restaurant. Phil was trying to listen to his friend justify his engagement to a woman he barely knew and constantly fought with. But his eyes kept wandering over to my table where I listened half-heartedly to the beginnings of a romance between one of my best friends and our young youth pastor.
Neither of us could stop looking at each other.
When I walked as slowly as my feet could possibly take me to the bright yellow 1974 VW Bug my parents had given me when I’d graduated, Phil quickly cut off his futile conversation and hurried to catch up with me. "Luis Palau is speaking at Mt. Hermon this Friday night and I’m thinking of going. I’ve heard you say he’s your favorite speaker, do you want to ride with me?"
I mumbled some sort of barely coherent agreement and drove home on Cloud 9. "Had Phil Comer just asked me out?"
When I saw him later in the week and he arranged to pick me up at the bank I was working at, I knew this was it. I had a date with the coolest guy in the church and I was terrified.
Looking back I wonder why I was so afraid of Phil Comer. And why that fear kept me bound up and hidden even as his love for me coaxed me out of my self-protective shell. I was a confident girl, at least on the outside. People liked me, I fit in. But somewhere deep inside I felt like I was faking it. No, that’s not the whole truth— I knew I was faking my faith.
Every day I got up early to read my Bible. I memorized stacks of Scripture, first with the Navigators system and then with my own 3x5 cards lined up on my bathroom mirror. I 'witnessed' to friends at school, inviting scores of kids to church. I sang in the church choir even though I could barely carry a tune, went to Bible study and took copious notes, sat in the front row every single Sunday.
But every night I went to bed haunted by my inadequacies.
What if my friends at church discovered who I really was? What if one of those nasty words that seemed to lurk right in the forefront of my mind slipped out? What if I 'backslid' like so many of the seemingly faithful had done?
Could everyone tell that all my working hard to be a good Christian girl wasn’t working its way into my heart? Would Phil discover that I wasn’t good enough, that no matter how I tried I just couldn’t seem to get it right?
On that first date I kept all that worry contained, measuring every word, every gesture, every expression on my face. But it was hard to stay uptight and pretending with Phil. His faith was so real, penetrating every facet of his life. The man oozed passion for God and talked like no one I’d heard before.
Phil put me at ease by drawing the conversation to his favorite topic: Jesus. By the time we’d gotten to our destination I’d forgotten to be nervous, caught up in a conversation that held me in a grip of fascination. Phil asked questions, not about me and my history, but about what I thought. He introduced topics that brought the Bible right smack dab into the middle of life. With an honesty that startled me, he let himself be less than perfect.
On our way home we stopped at one of those breakfast-all-day restaurants and I silently struggled with a dilemma. My dad was expecting me home at 11 and at this rate I wasn’t going to make it. No text messaging to bail me out. How could I tell this fully-into-his-career man that I’d have to find a payphone and call daddy? Before I’d drummed up the courage to do what I knew I had to do, Phil glanced at his watch. “Why don’t you call home and let your parents know we’re going to be late? Tell them we’re about 15 minutes away.” Like it was just fine. Like he didn’t see me as a barely-out-of-high-school-girl. Like problems could be solved with simple solutions instead of worried and churned over until they became great moral conundrums of impending disaster.
And that’s the way it’s always been with Phil. Simple. Black and white. Low on drama, high on solvability. For the first time I could remember, I relaxed fully with a man. Me, the introvert whose stiff awkwardness made the social dance of dating mostly miserable.
In the coming weeks and months I would discover that being with Phil allowed me to be more fully myself. A me emerged I hadn’t known. Because he respected my ideas and encouraged my input, I grew bolder and bolder about sharing what I thought. I read him passages I had underlined in my many books. He liked that.
I teased him when he tried to imitate my British tea drinking habits by ordering his with cream and sugar and then failed to realize the combustibility of the squeeze of lemon he added for good measure. Thirty-six years later we still laugh about the curdled mess that filled his cup on that first date.
And so began our journey down a road that would lead to a lifetime of learning to meld two distinctly different and seemingly incompatible lives into this state the Scriptures call 'oneness'. It would not be an easy road. Nothing like the fairy tales I’d fill my head with. I would get my feelings hurt. There would be risk. I would learn to be honest, to trust God instead of connive to get my way.
Most of all I would begin to understand what no one had ever told me before— that a woman’s love is wrapped up tight in her respect for a man.
But that’s a topic for another day… as Our Love Story continues next week.
Please feel free to e-mail in your questions for this new series about love and marriage from a Biblical perspective at firstname.lastname@example.org